The new owners of Insomnia Gaming Festival are thinking about dropping the expo for a BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer)-only event this year, due to the pandemic.
SuperNova Capital – which acquired Insomnia from GAME last month – is looking at running the event in mid-October. And tickets could go on sale in the next month as a best-case scenario.
But it admitted things are still ‘up in the air’ for Insomnia in 2021, depending on how the situation and government guidelines around Covid-19 change.
Craig ‘Wizzo’ Fletcher, speaking to Esports News UK in an exclusive interview in his new role as CEO of Events and Esports at SuperNova Capital, said: “I would run a BYOC only this year, if necessary, with [possibly] a specialist exhibition alongside it. Because the challenge will be getting the brands to come along – a lot of publishers for example have blanket bans on events in 2021. So the B2B stuff is more at risk than the attendance of the gamers.
“If the planets align – and that’s a big ‘if’ – I’d love to have tickets on sale in the next four weeks. That’s really the best-case scenario. We’re looking at a mid-October date – I don’t think it could be much earlier than that. But it really depends and is such a moving target. It’s all up in the air at the moment, so who knows? If we build it, will they come?”
Wizzo, who is the original founder of Insomnia before selling it to GAME in 2015, now owns a part of Insomnia after returning last month. He admitted it could have been shut down entirely due to the pandemic, and that ‘the itch was always there’ for him to come back, with ‘unmet goals and aspirations’ that he wants to fulfil.
“The reality is it’s something I built over decades,” Wizzo said. “And the decision [to sell to GAME] was the right decision at the time with the available information. I think, with all the changes that have happened over the intervening years, I think the event started to lose its way a bit, and I think it was clear it needed a home with people who could drive it forward and had the passion to do it. So I’d wanted to buy it back for a little time.
“I was going to come back to events one way or another, because I think it’s so crucial to the community to have these gatherings. So the ideal way was to get Insomnia back and start from a blank slate and rebuild. I tried for quite a while and ultimately we were successful. I’m my own worst enemy – I can’t not be doing things and it was another challenge. Not only to save it, effectively, because it could have been shut down with what’s happened with Covid and all the changes over the past year – that was one of the options. We were able to do the alternative.
“I’m certainly not saying ‘GAME screwed it up and I’m here to save it’ – I’m saying it had changed, there were some things done that I wouldn’t necessarily have done and I think it needs an injection of enthusiasm and direction. It needed someone that had the vision to drive it forward – and GAME would say that themselves.
“It means we can go in a new direction and go back to being community-first and gamers-first. And we’ll do our best to grow it. We didn’t come to the NEC thinking it would stagnate, we wanted to grow it rapidly but market conditions had other ideas. And now is the chance to rebuild it – I want to see a 10,000+ BYOC at the NEC or wherever we can do one. It might not even be in the UK! My preference would be to have the biggest one in the UK, but it might be Dubai, it might be LA, it might be wherever.”
Craig was open about his global plans for Insomnia, and also said that the next UK event might not take place at the Birmingham NEC, as it has done in recent years prior to Covid-19.
“It all comes down to the venue and availability and frankly that it’s the right place and makes sense commercially,” he explained. “I’ve been very clear with venues – telling them I won’t just bring it back because we’ve been using you the whole time. It has to make sense commercially and it has to make sense for the community – if those two tests aren’t met, we’ll go somewhere else. So that might mean going smaller. We can decide to do what’s right for the community, not what we have to do to meet some numbers.
“I also still firmly believe Insomnia could be a global brand, a global series of events. The sky is the limit: we’ve had events [in the past] in Dubai, Saudi, Egypt and Ireland, and there’s a lot of interest for other locations. We’ll be looking at those whether we partner with someone or set up a subsidiary over there. The US is an obvious one. We want to spread the gospel of Insomnia around the world!”
The next event would be the first Insomnia Gaming Festival in two years, after events that would normally have taken place in April 2020, August 2020 and April 2021, were cancelled. The shows usually include a LAN area, esports tournaments, an expo featuring games and merch, influencer meet and greets, and other activities and entertainment like ‘The Dark Room’.
“I’d love to run [various activities] if it makes sense and is done appropriately,” Craig continued. “I see Insomnia as a platform. We certainly won’t be doing large-scale high prize money esports tournaments – I don’t see that as a world to compete in. But we can offer a base for others to do that. So I see Insomnia with semi-pro tournaments with decent five-figure prize funds, not the huge six or seven-figure prize funds we see at top-tier esports events. That’s not who we are – we are a community that runs events, not an out-and-out global esports tournament.
“I’ve also been thinking a lot about hybrid events. How do we enhance the experience for people who can’t get there? Do we open up tournaments or social gaming for those who can’t make it? I think hybrid is here to stay, it was coming anyway – Covid has forced the development of it.”
Craig said that over half of the people they’ve surveyed would be prepared to come to an event for September, while 10% said they would wait until Spring next year.
“Everyone I talk to is crying out for it,” he said. “You can also see that from other festivals, which haven’t sold out for years but this year they have. I think the hypothesis is sound – people have been fed up being stuck inside and not able to go to live events. We’re social animals – even us geeks! We crave human contact and atmosphere.
“We need vibrant events. The community needs it. Esports needs it. Just think of the energy that people go away with after they’ve all come together at an event. So let’s keep this going. And we’ll get back there – there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve been through a very hard 15 months, all of us. I think finally with vaccinations, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’d be a shame if we couldn’t do an event this year, but we can’t rule that out unfortunately because no one knows. We’re doing everything we can to make one happen and let’s hope it’s successful, and we’ll start bringing back the community. We hope to have information on a date and tickets soon.”
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.